Contracted from balsam, a word formed by the Greeks from Hebrew Baal shemen, "lord of oil" That of Gilead was famed as among Canaan's best fruits as early as Jacob's time, and was exported by Ishmaelite caravans to Egypt (Genesis 37:25; Genesis 43:11), also to Tyre (Ezekiel 27:17). Used to heal wounds (Jeremiah 8:22; Jeremiah 46:11; Jeremiah 51:8). It was cultivated near Jericho and the Dead Sea, in Josephus" time. Burckhardt says: "it still grows in gardens near Tiberius." Hebrew tsori, from tsarah "to split." A balsamic oil, the modern "balsam of Jericho," is extracted from the kernels of the zuckum thorn bush, a kind of elaeagnus, in the region about the Dead Sea; but this cannot be the tree. The queen of Sheba, according to Josephus, brought "the root of the balsam" as a present to Solomon (Ant. 8:6 section 6); but it was in Gilead ages before her.

The fragrant resin known as "the balsam of Mecca" is from the Amyris Gileadensis, or opobalsamum. The height is about 14 ft., the trunk 9 in. in diameter. Incisions in the bark yield three or four drops a day from each, and left to stand the balsam becomes of a golden color and pellucid as a gem. The balm was so scarce, the Jericho gardens yielding but six or seven gallons yearly, that it was worth twice its weight in silver. Pompey exhibited it in Rome as one of the spoils of the newly conquered province, 65 B.C. One of the far famed trees graced Vespasian's triumph, A.D. 79. Titus had to fight two battles near the Jericho balsam groves, to prevent the Jews destroying them in despair. Then they were put under the care of an imperial guard. The Pistacia lentiscus ("mastick") has its Arabic name dseri answering to the Hebrew tsori, which seems to favor its claim to being the balm of Gilead.